A still life (plural: still lifes) is a work of art depicting mostly inanimate subject matter, typically commonplace objects which are either natural (food, flowers, dead animals, plants, rocks, shells, etc.) or man-made (drinking glasses, books, vases, jewelry, coins, pipes, etc.).
With origins in the Middle Ages and Ancient Greco-Roman art, still-life painting emerged as a distinct genre and professional specialization in Western painting by the late 16th century, and has remained significant since then. One advantage of the still-life artform is that it allows an artist much freedom to experiment with the arrangement of elements within a composition of a painting. Still life, as a particular genre, began with Netherlandish painting of the 16th and 17th centuries, and the English term still life derives from the Dutch word stilleven. Early still-life paintings, particularly before 1700, often contained religious and allegorical symbolism relating to the objects depicted. Later still-life works are produced with a variety of media and technology, such as found objects, photography, computer graphics, as well as video and sound.
The term includes the painting of dead animals, especially game. Live ones are considered animal art, although in practice they were often painted from dead models. Because of the use of plants and animals as a subject, the still-life category also shares commonalities with zoological and especially botanical illustration. However, with visual or fine art, the work is not intended merely to illustrate the subject correctly.
Still life occupied the lowest rung of the hierarchy of genres, but has been extremely popular with buyers. As well as the independent still-life subject, still-life painting encompasses other types of painting with prominent still-life elements, usually symbolic, and "images that rely on a multitude of still-life elements ostensibly to reproduce a 'slice of life'". The trompe-l'œil painting, which intends to deceive the viewer into thinking the scene is real, is a specialized type of still life, usually showing inanimate and relatively flat objects.